Out Of Balance

My son is sick. He is being very dramatic about it, too, whining and flopping on chairs instead of standing up, sniffling loudly and moaning about how much his head hurts. I think I’m getting his cold, and I want to declare how icky and tired I feel too.

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What is interesting to me is how bad we feel because our bodies are doing exactly what they are supposed to do. The symptoms we have are there because our bodies are fighting off infection, and the runny nose, fever, and cough are there to get the invaders out of the body or burn them to death. Our bodies feel out of whack because there has been an extreme test that requires an extreme reaction before we reset to normal.

It’s an odd perspective to say we feel icky because everything is going right. It sure feels like something is terribly wrong – and I suppose the invading germs are wrong – but our bodies reactions are exactly right.

What if this were a metaphor? Is there another place where things are out of balance and feel wrong? I’m tempted to say that the current political climate feels terrible because a poison has been introduced – hate, intolerance, injustice, etc. – and the tumult that is resulting – protests, marches, lawsuits, rioting, etc. – is the body politic’s response to the disease. It is absolutely the right thing to happen, and should happen more, to drive the poison out of our system. Even thought things feel scary and dangerous, it’s more dangerous not to fight back.

Each of us is our own white blood cell attacking intolerance in our own environment. Each of us has the option to speak up when we see injustice in action. We are stronger when there are more of us. No one can do our job for us – we are an army of individuals addressing what we see as we see it.

Sometimes we will get things wrong. Some of us might interpret others actions incorrectly, or through fear-tinted lenses, and attack the wrong people. Other times we might not be as aggressive as we should be because we fear for our own safety or we don’t know what to do or say. At times we will just sit down and give up because it all feels so uncomfortable and out of whack. We may complain more than we act. All of that is normal, and human, and forgivable, as long as we get back into the fight.

The health of the entire nation is at risk, here. It’s not just the immigrants, or people of color, or Muslims, or whatever other group has been targeted. The culture of fear and hatred this poison is spreading will harm all of us. We can’t pretend not to be affected, even if we are not the group being targeted for prison or deportation. All of us need to fight to the best of our abilities for compassion, tolerance, kindness, compromise, mediation, coming together, helping each other, finding ways to live together in peace and justice. Isn’t that the American way?

Power And Force

I was out of town when the Charlottesville events happened last week. I have been spending some time processing what has happened, and I have something to say.

Most of my writing assumes good will on everyone’s part, but cluelessness at times. That is, I don’t think people want to oppress others, and that they do want to know if they are doing something that keeps others from speaking up. Sometimes, however, people are very explicit in how they try to keep others down. Right now, white men are marching with torches claiming they are superior, they won’t be replaced by any minority (Jews, people of color, women, immigrants, Muslims, etc.) – and they are using violence to intimidate people into letting them have their way.

We also have a president who advocates violence and bigotry, and this is allowing people to speak up about their own bigotry in ways they had to hide in the past. What the person at the top says makes a difference all the way down the line.

I think that all of the racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, etc, is about power. There are some white men who are afraid of losing power to people they think are beneath them, and they will do anything to keep their power. They will kill, and threaten, and beat up, and elect powerful people who think the way they do.

These people seem to think that power is a zero sum game. That is, there is a finite amount, and if someone else gets more, that means they get less. They also view the world in a very hierarchical way – everyone is either one-up or one-down from others. I don’t agree with this world view. I think that everyone is equal, no one is better or worse than anyone else, and that everyone can hold personal power without taking away from anyone else’s power. However, power is not the same as force. That power is personal power to speak our own truths. It is power to bring multiple points of view into the world and work out how they can coexist. It is power to build, not destroy, and to understand, not suppress.

I’m disturbed by the number of people who have forgotten what every kindergarten teacher tries to impart – we are all in this world together, we need to share, we need to help each other, we are all worthy of love and attention, and we all need to let other people have love and attention too. There is enough love and attention for everyone. We don’t need to take it away from others to get it for ourselves. No one always gets their own way. We need to compromise to be able to live together. Force just makes people angry and resentful. Hate begets hate – and help begets help.

I think the world is stronger with everyone’s viewpoints in it. I think the world is better when more people are able to be fully present and alive and seen and heard and valued. I will fight bigotry and hatred with love and compassion, and continue to insist that every voice must be heard. Together, we are stronger.

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Death of a Pet

My cockatiel died this week. She was 22 years old, with a life expectancy of 12-15 years, so she lived a long life. I’d like to think it was a happy one, too. Her death has me thinking about life and death, and I want to share some thoughts with you.

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I considered writing about what you are doing with your one precious life. I thought about writing about holding your dear ones close and telling them you love them. I even pondered writing about unconditional love. Instead, I want to write about prey animals.

My bird was a small bird, and in the wild she would have been preyed on by larger animals. So she was wired to not show weakness. She knew that looking weak could mean being singled out of the flock, so she never told me when she was hurting.

I knew something was up because the feathers where she broke her wing 17 years ago were growing in wrong, and when she preened them she squawked. But I have no idea if she hurt the rest of the time. If I knew, I could have done something about it. I could have taken her to the vet, gotten medicine, gotten work done on the amputated tip of her wing, something that could give her relief. But she didn’t tell me.

When I was a kid, I didn’t tell people either. I tried, but got shut down so many times I figured I was safer not saying anything. I was a sensitive kid, and a lot of things hurt me. I kept being told to toughen up, not be so sensitive, get over it, etc. So I stopped admitting things hurt. I stopped showing up, because saying the wrong thing could get me attacked. I felt like keeping my head down was the safest thing to do.

It may have been the safest option at the time – it’s hard to tell now, and I don’t want to argue with anything that let me survive. Now, however, not showing up has some pretty big costs. It means losing a part of myself. Not offering my gifts to the world. Not being seen, not being befriended, not being loved. I am an adult, no longer a prey animal, now big enough to do hunting of my own. I don’t want to give anyone else the feeling they aren’t safe around me – but I also don’t want to lose my voice again. I will stand strong.

So, this week I am saying goodbye to my long time friend and pet. She taught me a lot about birds. I would wake up early to take her out of the cage and let her walk on me, peck at my freckles, turn her head so I could scratch all the right places on her head and neck. I miss her. And I honor her by being the most vivid, honest, biggest, brightest, most courageous me that I can be. I love you Toby. Rest in peace.

Revising Our Thinking (Advanced Problem Solving)

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This quote has always struck me as both wise and difficult to do something about. On the one hand, the thinking we have now is what led us to consequences, perhaps unintended, that are causing problems. On the other hand – how do you change how you think? Thoughts are just there, like air.

Actually, it turns out that thoughts can change. I think this is fascinating stuff.

First step – pause. If there’s no pause, there’s no chance to question. We believe what we think because it’s always there, informing everything we experience. If we can take a breath, stop the knee-jerk reaction, pause before moving ahead, it gives us a chance to do something different.

One way to practice the pause is to meditate. One school of meditation suggests that you notice what you are thinking, and then let it go. Aim for total quiet in the brain. Thoughts and feelings will come through, and rather than getting snagged in them, just let them pass. This takes practice, and honestly, doesn’t work all the time. When I meditate, I spend plenty of time thinking. But even a little practice in letting the thought be separate from the thinking of it helps create a pause. Seriously, even 3 minutes once a week.

Second step – question. I’m going to quote the wikipedia page about Byron Katie for this:

Byron Katie’s method of self-inquiry, The Work, consists of four questions and what she calls turnarounds, which are ways of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. The questions are: 1. Is it true? 2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? 3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? 4. Who would you be without the thought?

Contemporary neuroscience identifies a particular part of the brain, sometimes called “the interpreter,” as the source of the familiar internal narrative that gives us our sense of self. This discovery, based on solid experimental work, show that we tend to believe our own press releases.

If we can question our own thoughts, we can start to figure out where they might be right, where they might be wrong, where they might be more compassionate, where they might be more expansive, etc.

Pause, and question. How often do we do this in our own lives?

I’m going to tell you a parenting story. My son has sensory processing issues, which means he’s sensory seeking a lot of the time. He was playing with a toy on a string, enjoying the feeling of it swinging around his head, swinging against furniture, swirling around on the floor and against the edge of another toy. All that swinging was driving me crazy. I saw the floor being scratched. I saw the toy about to hit things on shelves, about to sweep the papers off my desk, about to hit me. I kept asking him to stop, and he didn’t stop. I was getting madder and madder.

This time, hallelujah and hooray, I remembered to pause, and question. I took a break, went outside, and asked myself what was going on. I helped myself remember that my kid gets hooked by how things feel. He wasn’t continuing to swing the damn thing around in order to piss me off, he was doing it because he liked how it felt. It was hard for him to stop because it fed something in his brain. I had a choice how I responded. I’ve tried yelling, I’ve tried grabbing the toy away, and these things don’t usually end well. What other choices did I have?

Once I calmed down, I went back inside. I told him he could use the toy on a string in a certain area, but not in others, because he could damage things. He agreed, and after a while was done swinging it around and moved on to something else. Relationship preserved, boundaries enforced with kindness, no yelling. What a difference. Pausing, and questioning.

I think it can be unnerving to be still and open to new ideas. It’s much easier and more comfortable to just be Right. All. The. Time. But we can’t solve our problems with our current thoughts and frames of reference. If we are open to new ideas, all sorts of creative possibilities open up. It’s a little uncomfortable to feel like a vessel for new ideas flowing in. (That may be another blog post.) But how wonderful to find a new solution!

Where have you paused, and questioned? What happened?

Pure Potential

I have always been seduced by blank books. There’s so much potential in them! The reality never quite lives up to the hopes though – sometimes I write in them, sometimes I don’t, but once something goes in, the possibilities are narrowed and the perfection I seek doesn’t exist.

Recently I’ve started coveting planners. Again, so much potential! I could get organized this time. I could save all the important stuff in one place. Plus, it has the blank book feeling of possibility. Yum! I have a tendency to start a planner, be really devoted to it for a few weeks, then I stop carrying it, or I start writing on scraps of paper instead of in my planner, and pretty soon it’s just another “should” for me.

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Sometimes I think that one reason we like children so much is the potential we see in them. They could do anything! They could learn and grow and become the savior of our economy or ecology or a great musician or anything at all! Once they start working mundane jobs, all that possibility is gone. At least, it feels like it’s gone. It’s harder to get at in working adults, even if it’s still there.

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I also think this feeling of possibility shows up in strategic planning sessions. And, so does the falling back into old habits. It’s so exciting to plot a new course, to envision blue sky possibilities, to come up with ideas that could change everything! And then, we go back to work, and have to put out fires, or deal with drama, or just get buried under paperwork, and all that hope gets forgotten. The new ideas become “shoulds” that feel like burdens, not freedom.

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I have two ideas about how to change these patterns. The two ideas come at it from different directions. One, make friends with not being perfect. One reason a lot of my blank books only hold a few pages is that what I put in there isn’t perfect, so I abandon the effort. But when I can accept that what I put in doesn’t have to be perfect, I can keep going with it. I my not live up to the full potential of the book, but I’m still stretching and growing and that’s all that matters. No one can fulfill all potential at the same time.

The other idea is around habits. It’s easy to fall into old patterns. If we want to change that, we have to work at it. So, I’d say block time into the planner to review where you want to go every day or week. Figure out the best use of your time. Delegate or let things go. It doesn’t have to be perfect. But if we don’t focus on the changes we want to make, they won’t happen at all. Starting the day by looking at our guideposts can help us head in the right direction.

My final idea is this: be gentle with yourself. Punishing ourselves when we don’t live up to unrealistic expectations is setting ourselves up to stay stuck and unhappy. Let’s live free and joyous and imperfect but expanding lives!

I’m a Turtle

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I have always been a late bloomer. I didn’t date in high school. I developed late. But I thought that once I got there, I’d be on the same fast track as everyone else.

Lately, I’ve been taking classes that promise breakthrough results and exponential growth. What I experience is incremental growth. I mean, I keep learning and changing, but it’s slow going.

In addition, I’ve realized that every time I stretch and grow, I need to withdraw and integrate what I’ve learned. I often withdraw far, running to the opposite extreme and hiding from the world. I always have blamed myself for this, thinking that somehow I should always be able to be on the cutting edge. But that’s not how I work.

I’ve been hearing about the idea of radical self care, and somehow I keep thinking this means scented baths instead of quick showers. But it really is a radical idea that taking care of oneself is more important than continuing to press on. Whether it’s a bath or a nap or reading a book, if I can honor the times I need to withdraw into my turtle shell, it makes it easier to come out again.

Just the idea that it’s not somehow shameful to need to rest is freeing! To honor the way I work and what I need to grow feels indulgent, but then I get so much better results. I’m able to see my need to turtle as part of the ebb and flow of the world. Everything in the universe is in motion, and my movement includes expanding and contracting, and there’s nothing shameful about that.

So here’s to the turtles of the world. We might not get where we are going quickly, but we never give up. We need to experience safety in order to risk putting ourselves out in the world. And we have so much to offer the world! I’m learning to love my turtleness instead of blaming myself for it. I hope you do too.

Gratitude

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When you wake up, do you dragged down by all the things you don’t want to do today, or do you feel excited to be awake and alive? When you get sick, do you feel miserable all day, or do you feel grateful that you don’t get sick that often?

I know it’s hard to let go of feeling bad. There are such juicy pay-offs! When I feel bad I can complain to people, and get their sympathy. I don’t have to work too hard because I need to take care of myself. I can bond with people over things we don’t like, but I don’t have to stretch my comfort zone to try to change anything. Change, even change I want and try to make happen, is difficult and uncomfortable. It’s just so easy to stay feeling stuck, sick, bored, sad, frustrated, angry, apathetic, unmotivated.

If something hurts, it’s hard to ignore it. Pain, discomfort, and trouble breathing are all very insistent on getting attention. I feel justified in letting my illness or injury run the show. It’s too much work to make my intentions larger than my circumstances. I’ll just wait til my circumstances improve to do anything too difficult.

And – welcome to victim-hood. Where nothing changes. Where no goals are met. Where everything is a little bit grey and boring.

It’s fascinating to realize that the only thing needed to change the picture – the only thing – is a change in perspective. Yes, I can’t breathe well right now. But how wonderful that I haven’t been sick in so long! I had health for a long time and I will again. Yes there are things I don’t like to do planned for the day. Just think how happy I’ll be when I get through them! I hate having them hanging over my head. Plus, each dreary phone call gets me closer to actual paying clients, or whatever goal I have for the day. (New school? Nursing home? Lawyer? Getting info and making calls helps in every case.) Then I can end the day feeling proud of myself.

I’m not saying that genuine depression can be lifted by thinking happy thoughts. My brain doesn’t make the right neuro-transmitters, and so I use store-bought ones. I was unable to think happy thoughts until I had the right brain chemistry. So I want to be clear that I’m not saying that if you are on the floor crying it’s all your fault and that you have to be different than who you are for things to get better. There is no fault, no blame. You are enough, just as you are. You are perfectly you, and no one can tell you you’re doing it wrong.

Once you have the capacity for joy, love, excitement, hope, and gratitude restored to you, then you can practice exercising those muscles. The negativity will always try to lead. It’s a survival mechanism. There’s nothing wrong with you for having all the negative thoughts. But how wonderful to think that if you’re miserable from all your negative thoughts, you can have a different experience if you change your thoughts!

Changing thoughts often takes practice. Try finding three things to be grateful for, right now. Can you breathe? Awesome! Do you have a place to sleep? Epic! How about hot running water? Fantastic! How are your eyes? your feet? your liver? All working? Sweet!

Now, let’s try the next level – find three things you’ve done well today. This can be very hard for people who are used to beating themselves up for all the things they did wrong. Did you make it to work? Awesome! Did you say something kind to someone? Epic! Are you clean and dressed? Fantastic! Have you fed yourself? Fed someone else? Had enough water? Sweet!

Now – can you see yourself as the hero, not the victim? Can you see the power you have? Can you take your power back from your circumstances, your health, your boss, your employees, your spouse? You have the power to choose how you face the day. Are you grateful the sun came up, or are you grumpy that the sky is grey? Can you smile when you hear birds sing, or do you curse that they woke you up too early?

I want to say this is both an instant fix, and it isn’t. On the one hand, I can choose what to focus on and that can make an immediate difference. On the other hand, in order for my focus to change generally to the positive requires diligent practice. I need to keep gratitude lists, lists of things I do well, lists of positive adjectives about myself, lists of people to call if I lose my positivity. I need to rewrite these lists often. I need to get exercise and eat well. When I do all these things, I find myself drawn more and more to see things in a positive light. And when I don’t, it’s easier to switch. (I still take anti-depressants though. That won’t change any time soon.)

I guess I’m sharing all of this because I feel like my life is getting more spacious, my possibilities are increasing, my power is growing, my heart is expanding, and my joy is overflowing with these changes that I’ve been making in my life. I want you to have this too. My mission in life is to help get every voice heard, and part of that is making space for the voices to speak up. And, part of it is helping the voices feel like they deserve to be heard. You deserve to be heard. You deserve to take up space. I hope I can help support you on your own journey to possibility and joy.

The Power of Questions

What if…

How many new ideas have come from those two words? What if we could fly to the moon? What if we made an ice cream sandwich using a donut as the bread? What if my car could drive itself for me? What if we crossed a poodle and a labrador?

I was reading How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J Gelb, and he talked about the power of questions to shake up how we see things. All sorts of problems can be solved when we ask the right questions. Not just what is the problem, what is the advantage of leaving it the way it is? What are the underlying issues? What paradigm might be limiting my perception? What problems may come from solving this problem? Who is affected? Who perpetuates it? Who can help solve it? When does it happen? When does it need to be resolved? Why is it important? And why again, and why again… These sorts of questions can help define a problem, find solutions for it, and even get our brains to start climbing out of the boxes they live in so we can see things from a different perspective.

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Byron Katie also asks questions. Her questions are very powerful, because they are addressed to our most intimate of possessions – our thoughts and beliefs. And she asks – is it true? Is it always true? What a question to ask!

I’m not going to speak up because speaking up always leads to bad consequences. Better to blend in.

Is that true?

Of course. Mom used to yell at me when I interrupted her reading. My third grade teacher would make fun of me for asking questions. My last boss fired me for challenging him. Speaking up leads to humiliation and loss.

Is that always true? Has speaking up always led to humiliation and loss? Has speaking up ever helped me? Is there a cost to not speaking up?

Well, there was that time. I told Mom I didn’t want to play piano any more and she eventually agreed, without any yelling. Other teachers liked hearing my questions. And one boss recognized me for saving time and money by my suggestions. So I guess speaking up and being noticed isn’t always bad. And I sure would like to catch the eye of that person I’d like to date…

I’ve found that I need someone else to ask me if a thing is true, since I firmly believe it is until it’s questioned. What’s really amazing is the amount of freedom I’ve experienced from letting go of thoughts and beliefs that weren’t true, or at least not always true. Realizing that some of my fundamental beliefs about the world are only stories I tell about the world to make sense of it really shook me at first, but now I can write new stories that serve me better. Rather than saying I overeat because I’m pathetic and hopeless, I say I overeat to cope with feelings I’m afraid to face, at least for now. Much gentler, and leaves open the possibility of things changing. But I believed I was pathetic and hopeless for a long time.

What do you believe? What would change if you questioned that belief? What problem are you having that needs a new perspective? Like Byron Katie, like Leonardo Da Vinci, ask yourself lots of questions!

How To Live

I’ve been thinking about the systems people put in place as guides to life. Some of it is religion. Some of it is aphorisms or sayings to keep in mind – do unto others as you want them to do unto you, for example.

So, what do I live by? I was born Jewish, and I still feel a part of the Jewish community. And, there are a damn lot of rules about how to be Jewish. I don’t follow a fraction of them. In the end, though, what are all those rules about? How to be fair. How to be kind. How to be healthy. How to be grateful. (I feel a need to put an aside here, because from experience someone will come up with a rule that doesn’t meet these guidelines and tell me that I’m wrong. So, just know I’m being somewhat general here.)

I actually feel a lot of affinity for the Wiccan motto: First, do no harm, then, do what you will. Doing no harm is difficult! Almost everything harms something. Eating a carrot harms the carrot. But if the focus is more on whether eating the carrot harms the earth, then growing food and eating it can still be done with care and reverence. And it shows us how much we are all connected, that all of our choices have consequences. Is using that plastic bottle harming the ocean? Maybe we should find out.

I like that the next thing is – do what you will. There are so many people telling us to do what they want us to do. I love that freedom to explore what it is we feel called to do inside – as long as it causes no harm. We can’t give in to the impulse to kill, hit, or destroy, but we can build a block tower just so we can knock it down because we want to experience that destruction. I think so many of us are not giving our gifts to the world because we are afraid to show our true colors. What if all of our differences and gifts and preferences were admired and supported? What if everyone was called to do what mattered most to them?

I think there is one piece that is missing. I don’t want it to be a law, since it’s sure to backfire. But I think a reminder to find gratitude and joy and love in everything around us is important. When I focus on things I’m grateful for, I see more of them. When I focus on things I’m resentful about, I see more of those. I know which way I feel better, and can be of more service in the world! In fact, I only want to be of service when I revel in the gratitude and joy and compassion and connection. When I feel resentful, badly treated, or not respected I don’t want to be of service. I want people to serve me! It takes a pretty big mind shift to inhabit the world of abundance and happiness rather than pettiness and greed. I know if someone told me I had to make that shift, it would push me further into the world of resentment. But I think it’s very important as part of a world view.

And so, my simple (yet complex) structure to serve as a guide to life:

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Ode to Thanks

It is the day before Thanksgiving, and I wish to write about gratitude.

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I am grateful for so many things: hot running water; a rainbow during my morning walk; rain in parched California. I am grateful for finding my people, even if I wasn’t born into their family. I am grateful that other people like to cook. I’m grateful for understanding and acceptance of other people’s inner workings, even mine, even my son’s. I’m grateful for persimmon trees standing leafless and full of fruit. I’m grateful for heat on a cold morning, and for coolness on a hot afternoon. I’m grateful for indoor plumbing. I’m grateful for play as a way to connect people. I’m grateful for people I can just be with, so I don’t always have to do. I’m grateful for people who encourage me to do things I might not do on my own.

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Most of all – I’m grateful that the more I look for things I’m grateful for, the less I want to complain about my life. I have at times found connection and understanding through sharing complaints, and I’m so glad that the connection and understanding were there during those times. And – I’m glad that today I see more to be grateful for than I see to complain about. I see joy and love and hope where once it was all anxiety and loneliness and despair.

If your life is full of anxiety and loneliness and despair, if on this holiday of giving thanks and declaring gratitude you do not feel thankful or grateful, I’d like to offer hope. I have not always seen light. Many years were very dark. It is possible for things to get better. Please, when you reach the end of your rope, reach out for help. Let someone know. We are all in this life together, and there are plenty of people who will lend you a hand if they know you need it.

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Thank you. Gracias. Merci. Todah. Sheh sheh.

You fill my heart.